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Ogonowski’s Ballot Snafu a Blow for GOP

And just like a dark horse riding off into the sunset, retired Air Force pilot Jim Ogonowski (R) was no longer a candidate for Senate.

Or, perhaps more appropriately, Ogonowski fell off that dark horse this week when his campaign did not turn in enough valid signatures to get on the ballot.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s long-shot candidate to take on Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) came up 30 validated names short of the 10,000 required signatures at the Tuesday deadline for getting on the ballot.

Ogonowski’s news comes as yet another blow in an already difficult year for the GOP — even though it was unlikely that he would actually win the seat.

Say it ain’t so, lamented Bay State Republicans.

He was such a good man, said the national party.

“Who would have ever thought his campaign structure would have broken down?” Republican strategist Charley Manning said.

Manning did not hold his ire when it comes to discussing the task of getting on the ballot. He said that even though Republicans don’t have an infrastructure for collecting signatures like Democrats in Massachusetts do, there is still no excuse for not qualifying for an election.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s still inexcusable,” he said. “This is the first time a major candidate has not gotten on the ballot in as long as I can remember.”

Ogonowski caught the NRSC’s attention when he lost an October special election in Massachusetts’ 5th district by only 6 points to now-Rep. Niki Tsongas (D). If he had been elected to the House or Senate, the folksy hay farmer would have been the first Republican in more than a decade to represent the Bay State.

According to Ogonowski’s campaign, the former Republican candidate is considering his options. NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher issued a statement that suggested the national GOP is still hopeful.

“The campaign has stated that they are reviewing their options at this time,” Fisher said. “Jim Ogonowski is a good man and doesn’t deserve any of this.”

A spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, Brian McNiff, said Ogonowski’s options might include either a legal challenge or mounting a write-in campaign for the Senate nomination. But both paths would be arduous, especially because there is another Republican on the ballot, lesser-known former 10th Congressional district candidate Jeff Beatty (R).

Ogonowski’s campaign was publicly confident that he would make the ballot up until Tuesday afternoon. Ogonowski aides said they collected more than 22,000 signatures — a more than double-sized cushion for names that might be eliminated because of incorrect address or registration. Only registered Republicans or independents who have not signed another candidate’s petition could submit their names on Ogonowski’s sheets.

In Massachusetts, statewide campaigns have to turn in at least 10,000 signatures by May 6 to their corresponding town clerks to be certified. The town clerks electronically submit the signatures to the secretary of state’s office by the final week of May. As of last week’s tally, Ogonowski was down by 82 names.

However that was not the problem at Tuesday’s deadline, according to a statement by Ogonowski spokeswoman Alicia Preston.

“When submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office we were notified that some town clerks had erred and had not properly signed the nomination papers,” Preston stated. “These papers were corrected by the clerks but were unable to be returned to the Secretary of State’s Office by 5 p.m. The removal of those certified signatures from our totals, thereby dropped us below the threshold needed to qualify for the ballot.”

Preston also said that while the campaign intentionally did not challenge what it called “questionable activity” at the clerks’ offices, such as missing signature sheets and other disparities, because they thought it would not be necessary, they will now be reviewing their options.

Ogonowski’s campaign would not say how many signatures these incidents accounted for, but did confirm that it would have at least given him the 30 names necessary to get on the ballot.

And despite Ogonowski’s stumbling on the way to the secretary of state’s office, Republicans with less of a national reputation have been able to get on the statewide ballot in the past. Beatty made it onto the Senate ballot for this cycle and on the House ballot in 2006, and little-known businessman Ken Chase won the two-way Republican primary that year to take on Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Chase said that unless a candidate has money or an infrastructure, such as former Gov. Mitt Romney (R), getting on the ballot can be an arduous task.

“You have to go to the wealthy areas,” Chase said. “If you’re a Republican, that’s where you have to go to get signatures. Seventy-five percent of the state is off-limits if you’re procuring signatures as a Republican.”

And in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts, Chase said, Republican signature gathering can be full of surprises.

“The problem is you don’t know how good those signatures are until two or three months later,” he added.

It’s a problem that Ogonowski — and hopeful Republicans in Washington — know all too well.